Tesla is adding full self-driving hardware to all its new vehicles—but won’t activate it yet

Tesla announced today that hardware installed on all its new vehicles will make them capable of full autonomy, but the electric-car company won’t activate that functionality until the software has been road-tested and regulators give the green light.

All models, including the Model 3, are getting a hardware upgrade that Tesla says makes them capable of self-driving at a “safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver.” New cars will feature cameras with 360-degree visibility and 12 new ultrasonic sensors that can see humans and obstacles up to 820 feet (250 meters) ahead. A new forward-facing radar system gives the car’s navigation system visibility in heavy rain, fog, dust, and even beyond the car ahead. An onboard “supercomputer” will have 40 times the computing power of previous generations. All the software is being developed by Tesla.

A visualization of how the company’s semi-autonomous Autopilot sees the road. (Tesla)

CEO Elon Musk said in a conference call with reporters that the new cars, when in full autonomous mode, will be much safer than those driven by humans, and turn its entire fleet into an autonomous transportation solution. Tesla owners will be able to earn money from their vehicles when they’re not in use by sending them out to pick up passengers. Musk first laid out his plan for a fleet of self-driving cars in July, among other grand ideas.

That’s the vision. For now, Musk said it will take “some time in the future to complete validation of the software and regulatory approval, but the foundation is laid for the cars to be fully autonomous.”

Musk said the self-driving hardware would be ready for a test drive from Los Angeles to New York as early as next year. The Model S and Model X vehicles with this new hardware are already in production.

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